Archives For *Featured Reviews*


A Democratic Experiment

A Review of

Undomesticated Dissent:
Democracy and the Public Virtue of Religious Nonconformity
Curtis Freeman

Hardcover: Baylor UP, 2017
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Reviewed by James Honig

The dissenting movement 17th and 18th century England has been a lacunae in my knowledge and understanding of church history. While I have read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as a young pastor and  Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as a teen and again in college, I had little awareness of Bunyan’s association with the dissenting movement and of Defoe’s, nothing.  And while I have read isolated poems of William Blake, never the long and difficult Jerusalem.

That gap has at least been closed by Undomesticated Dissent: Democracy and the Public Virtue of Religious Nonconformity. Curtis Will Freeman, on the faculty of Duke Divinity School, places these three towering figures of literary history firmly into the outline of church history. Freeman tells the story of the works in their historical contexts, and especially their context in the history of the Christian Church, with special attention to the church in North America.

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An Increasingly Inclusive Family Structure

A Feature Review of

Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World
Kelley Nikondeha

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2017.
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Reviewed by Lynn Domina


Part memoir, part theology, part scripture studies, Kelley Nikondeha’s Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World is a provocative and perceptive commentary on how we choose to live together. She illustrates her argument with stories from the Bible—particularly the birth of Moses, the allegiance between Ruth and Naomi, and the birth of Jesus—and from her own life. Following Paul, she suggests that we are all God’s adopted children, and that this status is crucial to our identity, not because we are second only to natural-born children, but because adoptive families are equally as loving as other families. “Because that is the essence,” she says, “of our relationship to God—our adoption—exploring what that means is vital to better understanding our membership in God’s family and its implications for our connection to one another” (2-3).

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“A Vision of Inclusion and Redemption”
A Review of

The War on Kids:
How American Juvenile Justice Lost Its Way
Cara Drinan

Hardback: Oxford UP, 2017
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Reviewed by Trudy Taylor Smith

In The War on Kids: How American Juvenile Justice Lost Its Way, law professor Cara H. Drinan draws on both academic research and first-hand, personal accounts to expose the oppressive system  that funnels our nation’s most vulnerable children and youth into prisons. More than one million kids are arrested every year across the country (4), and nearly 100,000 of them will be incarcerated alongside adults (73).

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Giving Us Words
A Review of

Four Birds of Noah’s Ark:
A Prayerbook From the Time Of Shakespeare
Thomas Dekker

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2017
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Reviewed by Colin Chan Redemer
Recently a young mother said she wanted to start praying with her kids but didn’t know how, or what to say. Had I known then about the new edition of Thomas Dekker’s Four Birds of Noah’s Ark: A Prayerbook From the Time Of Shakespeare edited by Robert Hudson I perhaps would have been more helpful to her. It is easy for folks who’ve spent roughly a seventh of their life in a church pew to say “well just speak to God.” But prayer isn’t quite the same as chatting with a friend over coffee; it is spiritual food. I can image Jesus looking down at us and, echoing Mark 6:37, saying “you, give them [words to say].” Well this prayer book from the 1600’s offers many such words which, hundreds of years later, are fitting. The day I started reading the book was in my son’s first season of kindergarten. There I read the first prayer titled “For A Child Going to School” and I realized the value of being instructed in prayer even as my son was heading off to class. “Be my Schoolmaster to instruct me,/ that I may repeat the rules of true wisdom.” It is a striking prayer, that God would be the one who instructs us. If he uses the teacher in my son’s public school, so be it. And if that teacher fails in her cosmic duty: have faith, God will make a way. That alone is worth the price on the back.  

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An Eternal Amen
A Review of

Night Call:
Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World
Robert Wicks

Paperback: Oxford University, 2018
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Reviewed by June Mears Driedger

Popular Catholic writer and psychologist Robert J. Wicks offers a map for persons in healing professions (clergy, doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers) to be resilient in their work or ministry. In the prologue Wicks shares an anecdote that sets the book title and the nature of his work:

During a presentation to ministers, a lecturer asked an intended rhetorical question, “What do you think is the core of your work?” But before he could proceed, surprisingly, one of the clerics in the audience yelled out, “Helping people through the night.”

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The Other Side of  Uncomfortable
A Feature Review of

The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community
Brett McCracken

Paperback: Crossway, 2017
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Reviewed by Erin F. Wasinger

Last spring, my church was in the middle of a sermon series that did nothing for me. I forget what it was about. In fact, I only remember we had a lackluster sermon series because I remember a postcard that arrived in my mailbox at the same time.  A new church, opening in a hip neighborhood downtown, promised friendship and free-trade coffee on its invitation. Free-trade coffee! I read that as code for “hipster church,” a place where everyone would care about the things I do, would listen to the same music, linger in the same coffee shops.

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The Possibility for Something Better

A Review of

Future Home of the Living God
Louise Erdrich

Hardback: HarperCollins, 2017
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Reviewed by Leslie A. Klingensmith
White liberalism.  Roman Catholic theology.  Native American displacement.  Women’s rights.  Cross cultural adoption.  Government intrusion.  Reproductive choice.  Evolution.  Science vs. Faith. Global warming. Creation spirituality.  Motherhood.  These are some of the  issues that Louise Erdrich addresses – either explicitly or implicitly – in her latest novel Future Home of the Living God.  I loved the book.  Erdrich’s ability to touch on so many important topics without being self-righteous or pedantic should be the envy of all who aspire to write.  She has written a story that somehow manages to be both terrifying and hopeful – and all too possible.  I read the book as those of us who live within the rhythm of the church year were about to start the liturgical season of Advent.  As unlikely as it might seem, this futuristic tale is eerily (and beautifully) perfect for Advent.  Erdrich has created a narrative that confronts us with the hope of the Incarnation (begun with Jesus’ unlikely birth) but also the revelation that every birth, especially ones that take place against the backdrop of a world in turmoil, bears a hint of incarnation.

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A Book About Us
A Review of

The Ground Beneath Us:
From the Oldest Cities to the Last Wilderness, What Dirt Tells Us About Who We Are
Paul Bogard

Hardcover: Little, Brown, 2017
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Reviewed by Sam Chamelin


Paul Bogard is all of us.

Well, most of us.  Bogard established himself as an important voice for environmental issues in his highly recognized The End of Night.  Bogard’s first book took us on a journey to the stars, or the lack thereof, highlighting the loss of genuine darkness in our LED-saturated culture, and how that shapes us and our environments. Bogard shows himself fluent in a variety of languages – science, technology, anthropology, and even theology.  In The Ground Beneath Us, Bogard continues honing and sharpening his multi-faceted voice, turning his attention to the soil with a similar literary recipe. The Ground Beneath Us is a well-paced, diverse exploration of the various grounds that humans trod, from the paved surfaces of Manhattan to the thawing tundra of Alaska, both in how we have shaped these grounds, and how the ground shapes us.

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In Search of America
A Feature Review of

The Far Away Brothers:
Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life
Lauren Markham

Hardcover: Crown, 2017
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Reviewed by Tim Hoiland


In 2013, stories about unaccompanied minors started coming across our airwaves, feeds, and timelines.

These children, we learned, were fleeing Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras in record numbers. They were making the long, arduous trek to El Norte through the vast expanse of Mexico and the borderlands. And they were doing all of this, at great expense and risk of death, unaccompanied by their parents.

The words we kept hearing were “flood” and “surge,” conjuring images of a dark and stormy sea washing over our southern border – perhaps the violent waves of a tsunami crashing ashore.

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Who Are You Talking To, Greg?

A Review of

The Genius of One:
God’s Answer for Our Fractured World
Greg Holder

Paperback: NavPress, 2017

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Reviewed by Fred Redekop

Greg Holder is the pastor of the Crossing, a large multi-site church in St.Louis, Missouri. He was first on the Elder team there and has now been the pastor for 20 years. He preaches in jeans and seems to be a very engaging speaker at the church. The church website says:

Greg challenges us to consider pertinent historical and linguistic details in Scripture, without missing an opportunity to weave in humor and personal stories. He brings ancient truths of Scripture to light in fresh ways, while calling those from an unlikely mix of spiritual backgrounds to love as they have been loved.

Holder has written some children’s Bible story books, a book (along with Chris Seay and Rick McKinley) on bringing simplicity back to Christmas called the Advent Conspiracy, and most recently a book titled The Genius of One: God’s Answer for Our Fractured World, which I had the pleasure of reviewing. Holder’s style is concise and readable. As the title says, the book is about bringing the church together, to work with Christ as a unified body of believers. Holder writes, “Loving those who in these uncertain times, we must — and here’s the point of the book — love one another too”(x).  So, the premise of Holder’s book is quite simple.

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